A long, boring New Year's weekend was payback for the billions of dollars that the banking industry spent to overcome the year-2000 computer problem.
There was little to do for thousands of employees who camped out overnight in or near data centers and command posts to make sure everything went smoothly. The tranquil tone was sustained through Monday morning, as banks fired up their check and branch processing systems.
"We were bored stiff," said Lisa Selkin-Lupo, a Chase Manhattan Bank spokeswoman who spent New Year's Eve in one of the bank's command centers. "I expected it to be slow, but even my expectations weren't met."
Employees at MasterCard's command center kept busy with "a lot of regular work," said Rob Reeg, senior vice president of global technology and operations. "People continued rewriting programs for new software, and software got tested."
Not that there were not some anxious moments, even if they were triggered by the most mundane of miscues.
Problems with some credit card transactions in St. Louis that initially caused concern at MasterCard's St. Louis operations hub turned out to be a false alarm, Mr. Reeg said. A steakhouse in the St. Louis area that was unable to accept credit card transactions after midnight did not have its card terminal plugged in.
Many banks broke the late-night tedium with various celebratory rewards.
At about 10 minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve, Chase employees were given duffel bags with goodies such as a plastic champagne cup, bottle of sparkling wine, T-shirt, windbreaker, toothbrush kit, and headache tablet.
At the stroke of midnight at Mellon Bank, employees partook of a "very large Y2K cake," said Stephen Dishart, a spokesman.
First Union Corp. toasted midnight with apple cider. Three minutes after midnight, chairman and chief executive officer Edward Crutchfield and president G. Kennedy Thompson organized a conference call to congratulate 5,000 employees in 18 command centers on a job well done.
The easy transition was a testament to the serious attention paid to the issue, and it confirmed analysts and regulators' ratings of the banking industry as one of the best prepared. The 13 U.S. banking companies that spent the most on year-2000 compliance reported an aggregate amount of $3.4 billion through the third quarter of 1999 - Citigroup topped the list with $950 million - and beyond that they paid considerable attention to communicating their readiness to customers.
"There is a degree of relief and vindication for the industry in general," said Greg Miles, senior vice president at Amsouth Bank in Birmingham, Ala. "Companies took Y2K seriously and dealt with it successfully."
Banks are not claiming total victory yet. John Hall, manager of Y2K communications at the American Bankers Association in Washington, noted that problems could surface as cycles kick in for monthly credit card bills, bank statements, and direct deposits of payroll.
One of the holiday weekend's biggest surprises was the low level of transactions at automated teller machines, grocery store branches, and call centers.
Mr. Dishart of Mellon said transaction volume was 60% lower than normal at grocery store branches over the weekend and 17% lower on Monday morning.
First Union's call center received "below normal calls for a holiday weekend," said spokeswoman Allison Rash-Miley.
At FleetBoston Financial Corp., "the only surprise was the relatively low volume of transactions at our ATMs, call centers, Web banking, and branches" over the weekend and on Monday, said Jim Schepker, a spokesman. The company kept open 100 supermarket branches of the former BankBoston on Saturday and Sunday, plus 11 supermarket facilities of the former Fleet Financial Group on Sunday.
At Amsouth, call centers that were fully staffed let people go home early on New Year's Day "due to the sheer lack of phone calls," Mr. Miles said.
Whatever problems did occur were minor and fixed quickly, said Robert M. Garsson, director of press relations at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "In my wildest dreams I didn't expect things to go as well as they did," Mr. Garsson said. "It was almost perfect."
Citigroup experienced a minor mishap in a corporate business application and fixed it, a corporate bank spokeswoman said.
The National Credit Union Administration reported "some very small problems" among the 80% of the approximately 11,000 federally insured credit unions it had contacted by midday on Monday.
Most of the problems "were not even attributable to Y2K, and they were fixed immediately," said agency spokesman Robert Loftus. He said three or four credit union automated teller machines malfunctioned, but "that's something that happens every day in this country."
Project Magellan, a global assessment of Y2K's impact conducted by the research firm International Data Corp., reported sporadic power outages in Turkey and at a cable television station in Hawaii. "We expect we will find, rather than a flood, some leaky basements," IDC said. It estimated Y2K-related computer downtime would take $21 billion out of the global economy this year.
GartnerGroup research director John Bace said many problems caused by the change in the calendar will never become public knowledge, because companies will discover them and fix them before they affect customers or others on the outside.
He also said that about 90% of potential year-2000 problems do not cause computers to crash, but simply corrupt data.
"It is probably going to take the first three business quarters for all of the bugs to shake themselves out," Mr. Bace said, noting that organizations typically never use 100% of their computer applications at the same time.
The Federal Reserve system braced for outsize consumer demands for currency, but William Stone, first vice president and chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said only a half dozen or so financial institutions put in last-minute requests for extra cash. The Fed paid out $80 billion to banks in the fourth quarter versus $23 billion in the same period a year earlier.
"Financial institutions will want to move currency back in the opposite direction now so they can turn those funds into invested assets," Mr. Stone said. "We will be flexible and work in a cooperative way, helping them get this money back."
Swift, the Belgium-based interbank messaging network, operated without incident since the start of business early Monday in Hong Kong and Japan, said Jackson Ferry, a spokesman. With some European markets closed for a holiday Monday, a more complete picture of the Swift system will become clear today.
Now, the "$64,000 question" is whether the billions of dollars spent by U.S. banks were worth it, said Dennis F. Lynch, president and chief executive officer of NYCE Corp., a major ATM network operator in the Northeast.
"Our country is much more reliant on the ATM system and debit cards than many other countries, so we did what we had to do to make sure we were properly insured," he said. "The risk for things going wrong and people losing confidence in our services was too great to cut corners in any way or to not test and retest systems."
"It's a no-win situation," said Mr. Bace of GartnerGroup. "If problems had become rampant, then people would have said, 'We didn't spend enough money.' Now that there aren't a lot of problems, people are saying, 'We spent too much.' "
First Data Corp. spent $200 million in recent years making sure its credit card and other payments processing systems operated without a hitch. "When you think of the industry we are in, [operations] have to be right," said Charles Fote, president and chief operating officer. "The first panic would be if money is not moving, so I do not think we overspent."
George Thomas, senior vice president at the New York Clearing House, which operates the Clearing House Interbank Payments System, said, "The work had to be done. If wasn't, it would have been a horrendous problem."
Amsouth Bank is scaling back its number of command center employees from 150 to 20 or 30 people, Mr. Miles said.
First Tennessee National Corp. sent its staff home at 2 a.m. New Year's Day, said vice president James Mays, head of Y2K administration. "We came back in at about 7 a.m. on Saturday and stayed till about 3:30 p.m., and then we went down for good."
First Tennessee spent about $45 million to fix its systems, but a substantial part of that went toward replacing existing systems with "state-of-the-art applications," Mr. Mays said.
"We have acquired a great deal of knowledge about ourselves in terms of system inventory," Mr. Mays said. "With this spending, we have created a tremendous asset, and what we have to do is spend some time to make sure we can effectively manage that asset."
Carol Power, Ross Snel, and Steven Marjanovic contributed to this report.